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A fitting tribute to Williams
07/22/2002 9:46 PM ET
BOSTON -- The Red Sox promised an event on Monday night that would celebrate the life of Ted Williams more than it would mourn his death. That promise was delivered with a stirring tribute at Fenway Park that those in attendance or watching on television will probably never forget.

A crowd of 20,500 was on hand on a beautiful summer night. All the proceeds from the event went to the Jimmy Fund, a cancer-fighting institution that was always near and dear to Williams' heart. A less formal non-ticketed event took place in the morning, during which roughly 12,000 fans entered the park and paid their respects.

Later that evening, the legacy of a baseball icon was celebrated through music, video and spoken words. Red Sox former (Carl Yastrzemski, Johnny Pesky, Dom DiMaggio) and current (Nomar Garciaparra) participated in the event -- and provided their remembrances of No. 9.

Former astronaut and Senator John Glenn also took part, recalling his days in combat with a man who was great at many things in addition to hitting a baseball.

Three large posters of Williams -- one hitting, one in action as a fighter pilot and one speaking to sick children -- were plastered over the 37-foot Green Monster that Williams played in front of during his brilliant career with the Red Sox.

Each side of the infield was represented with a Williams memory. From the .406 (his average in 1941) imprinted around third, to the USMC (United States Marine Corps) at second to the 521 (his career home run total) over by first.

His No. 9 was stenciled in white along the left-field sod.

Marine officers were decked out in center field, and the evening began with a rendition of the national anthem.

What the visuals and the music couldn't capture, the speakers did wonderfully, as they were prompted by Red Sox broadcaster Sean McDonough and ESPN baseball analyst Peter Gammons.

Red Sox chairman Tom Werner helped kick off the night by announcing two new, permanent ways Williams will be commemorated at Fenway. The ritzy 600 Club suites behind home plate will be renamed the .406 club. And a bronze plaque of Williams will be added in left field.

Pesky, who still works for the Red Sox after all these years, recalled what it was like to talk hitting with Williams.

"You had to be there to believe the things that went on," chuckled Pesky. "If anyone knew anything about hitting, it was Williams. I still remember what he said. Hit a ball you can hit on the good place of the bat and hit it to a place nobody's at."

Williams made that look easier than anyone, which is why he was able to live up to his goal -- being the Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived.

Just think what it must have been like for Carl Yastrzemski. Long before he became a Hall of Fame player himself, his job was to succeed Ted Williams in left field.

Yaz's rookie year was 1961, fitting symmetry since Williams retired following the '60 season.

"I came to Spring Training in 1960, and Ted took me aside one day and talked to me about hitting," said Yaz. "I said, 'Ted, I appreciate it very much but I don't know what you're talking about'."

Yastrzemski, who like Williams, played his entire career with the Red Sox, was even more lost in '61.

"It really was tough on me at that time," said Yaz. "I was 21 years old, replacing the greatest hitter who ever lived. I tried being like Ted when I first game up, hitting .240 the first half of the season. I told Mr. Yawkey, 'I wish Ted was around, I need extra hitting.' He was in Nova Scotia fishing, but the next day he was at the ballpark helping me out."

Williams' generosity was sometimes overlooked because he spoke with such a loud, booming -- and often intimidating -- voice.

Glenn recalled the work Williams did for his country in World War II and the Korean War, putting his baseball career aside without a complaint.

"Ted was an excellent combat pilot in every sense of the word," said Glenn. "What would his baseball records be if he didn't go back for duty? Who knows. But I never heard Ted complain. Not a word."

Garciaparra, the Red Sox icon of this generation, heard plenty of words from Williams. They became good friends. So much so that during that memorable 1999 All-Star scene near the Fenway mound, Williams searched for -- and eventually found Garciaparra. What did he say to him?

"He told me, 'I'm sorry I missed your party last night', I think that was so special to me because I knew him on that level," Garciaparra said. "He wasn't just a guy who watched me play baseball. He saw me as his friend."

Helping to cap the event, several Red Sox players old and new trotted out in uniform and took their respective positions. Frank Malzone went to third, Pesky scampered to short in his old-timer uniform. Garciaparra also went to short, backed by a thunderous applause. Center fielder Johnny Damon trotted out to his position with his three-year-old son, matching him stride for stride.

Then all of the players gathered around Williams' No. 9 in left, and filled it in with flowers.

Former broadcaster Curt Gowdy re-enacted Williams' final career at bat, in which Williams triumphantly homered off Jack Fisher of the Orioles.

Then the event was over. We'll never be able to say the same thing about the legacy of Williams.

Ian Browne, who covers the Red Sox for MLB.com, can be reached at Ian.Browne@mlb.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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